Reading Texts: A Process of Discovering and Recovering Context
by Meenakshi Bauri
A research essay submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts
School of Linguistics and applied Language Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September, 18, 2002
We feel that in uncovering the problem of thought and speech as the focal issue of human psychology, we have made an essential contribution to progress. Our findings point the way to a new theory of consciousness, which is barely touched upon at the end of the book. (Vygotsky, 1997, p. lxi)
The above words of Vygotsky are crucial and related to my initial question – was Vygotsky scientifically testing the Indian theories of language? This is not such a far-fetched idea. I am reminded here of what Kristeva says in Language the Unknown. According to Kristeva linguistics has become a part of semiotics and to explore the semiotic realm of is to join in sociological, anthropological, and psychological research. Kristeva further says:
As if one were returning to a time when language signified an ordered cosmogony – thinking is grasping complex reality through a full language. But this time science is present for exploration. (1989, p. 299)
Perhaps Vygotsky, too, realizing this through his empirical studies raises the idea of a first step and a new direction especially as these concepts relate to a new theory of consciousness. This is not the first instance that Vygotsky opens up the argument and the text to the interpretive processes of the reader, delimiting the interpretive processes and yet defining it. Both Vygotsky and Kristeva depend on science for investigation and yet both refer back to antiquity. This new theory of consciousness, which is barely touched upon at the end of the book, as Vygotsky points out, is outlined in the last two paragraphs of his book:
If language is as old as consciousness itself, and if language is a practical consciousness-for-others and, consequently, consciousness-for-myself, then not only one particular thought but all consciousness is concerned with the development of the word. The word is a thing in our consciousness, as Ludwig Feuerbach put it, that is absolutely impossible for one person, but that becomes a reality for two. The word is a direct expression of the historical nature of human consciousness. Consciousness is reflected in a word as the sun in a drop of water. A word relates to consciousness as a living cell relates to a whole organism, as an atom relates to the universe. A word is a microcosm of human consciousness” (1997, p. 256).
These thoughts seem to reveal Vygotsky’s affinity with a philosophical tradition. The above passage is very similar to the opening verse in Bhartrhari’s text, Vakyapadiya:
The beginningless and the endless one, the imperishable Brahman consciousness) of which the essential nature is the Word, which manifests itself into objects and from which is the creation of the Universe. (Bhartrhari, Cantos 1:1)
The words consciousness, sun, drop of water and atoms all have special significance within Indian thought in general and within Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya in particular. There are several other parallels as well:
A thought may be compared to a cloud shedding a shower of words.(Vygotsky, 1977, p. 231).
When their capacity is being revealed these atoms which are called speech, prompted by the effort ( of the speaker) collect together like clouds (in the sky). (The Vakyapadiya, cantos: 1.111)
We must remember that to both Bhartrhari and Vygotsky thought and speech are interrelated; one word could easily replace the other in a sentence. In the last paragraph of Thought and Language Vygotsky refers to atoms. He uses the phrase, ‘as an atom relates to the universe’. How does an atom relate to the universe? Perhaps Bhartrhari has the answer:
The atoms, which unite and separate, transform themselves into shadows, light and darkness and also speech on account of their possessing all (possible) capabilities i.e., the capacity to be transformed into all things. (The Vakyapadiya Cantos 1:110)
Is this Vygotsky’s way of pointing to the new direction, the new theory of consciousness that he refers to, as being barely touched upon at the end of his book? In the last two paragraphs quoted above, Vygotsky seems to be alluding to a universal consciousness or the supreme consciousness that is connected with the word. Let me elaborate here some related aspects of Indian thought which relate to Vygotsky’s new direction. Vygotsky’s words can be read as an indication, a crucial signpost that seem to point to Bhartrhari’s text – Vakyapadiya. Bhartrhari begins with the ideas that Vygotsky ends his text with. Bhartrhari explored a similar concept, which he terms “S´abdabrahman”, (s´abda is word= and Brahman= consciousness) or, in other words, the supreme word principle. It is the philosophy of Sabdabrahman that is expounded in the first Canto – called Bramhakanda – of the Vakyapadiya from which the above passages emerge.
Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya explores language at two levels. The first deals with linguistic relationships from the point of view of everyday usage, and the second with the same relationships from the point of view of ultimate reality. According to Harold Coward, Bhartrhari followed in the tradition of the original rsis (seers), whose only purpose was to use the power of language to reveal that sabdabrahman is already present within the consciousness of everyone (1976: 19-20). Within this view Thought and Language go hand in hand, and consciousness and word are interchangeable. According to Kristeva, Bhartrhari “outlined a theory of the sentence, which, being a process, was the only complete reality of meaning” (1989, p. 90). This is how I understand Bhartrhari, and it is this understanding that I bring to the reading of Vygotsky’s text Thought and Language.
It is my belief that although Vygotsky was involved in a scientific experiment, he could not completely ignore spirituality. The idea of an ultimate reality, of a universal consciousness, the spiritual aspect that Bhartrhari expresses in the first canto, is what is alluded to in the last two paragraphs of Thought and Language – particularly in the notion that “a word is a microcosm of human consciousness” (Vygotsky, 1997, p.256).
What are Vygotsky’s thoughts regarding spirituality? In his letter to his student, Levina, he states, “Of course, you cannot live without spirituality giving meaning to life”(Vygotsky as cited in van der Veer and Valsiner, 1993, p.16). A study of Thought and Language should involve both the spiritual and the scientific. In my opinion, it is this synthesis that the last two paragraphs of Thought and Language reflect.
Let us look at the connection from another angle. According to Kozulin, Vygotsky’s research centered on exploring the relationship between consciousness, activity and reality. (Vygotsky, 1997, p.xlv). In the Yoga-Sutra of Vyasa-bhasya, it is said that the one who knows the difference between word, cognition and thing meant is all-knowing – Sarvavit. The relation between word and consciousness, and between consciousness, activity and reality, is a relationship that has been much investigated in a systematic manner in the East.
It would appear that consciousness, activity and reality, have Sanskrit parallels in the notions of Sattva, Tamas and Rajas. If Vygotsky was involved in exploring the concepts of Sattva, Tamas, and Rajas – or consciousness, reality and action, then he was in company of the classical philosophers of India, the ancient seers who had made this a central focus of their inquiry.
Within Indian philosophic thought questions about the nature of being are intimately connected with the philosophy of language, particularly the relation between language, consciousness and being. Language is considered a fundamental concern of Indian philosophy, which has a long tradition of linguistic analysis. Within this tradition Vyakarna or the science of grammar developed into an independent tradition, and was regarded as a darsana, or philosophy. A highly sophisticated science of language developed early in India, from at least the fifth century BCE, and provided the inspiration for modern linguistics through the study of Sanskrit and the translation into European languages of some of its key texts during the 19th century. The philosophic systems or darsanas espouse that language inspires, clarifies, and reveals truth and meaning, and so, it is the starting point of philosophical investigation, and in this respect, it is action. Philosophical investigation is called Brahmajijnasa in Sanskrit.
According to the rules of Sandhi (a technical term in Sanskrit grammar which refers to the rules of euphonic combination (Coward, 1976, p. 7)), Brahmajijnasa is made up of the words:
brahma = consciousness
jijnasa = curiosity/wanting to know/inquiry
Therefore, the meaning of the word is “inquiry about consciousness” (Flood, 1996, pp.244-230). Scholars within the Indian tradition, Bhartrhari among them, have systematically investigated Thought and Language, and its interrelationship. Bhartrhari’s ideas – specifically where he talks about word-meanings and levels of language – deal with linguistic relationships from the point of view of everyday reality, which coincides with Vygotsky’s primary concern with those concepts that lend themselves to scientific testing. Through my investigations I tried to determine if indeed he took his inspiration from the philosophies of the East. At times I even toyed with the question of what sort of readings Vygotsky would have been engaged in, and if it was even possible to follow that course for myself.
The study of Thought and Language is one of the areas of psychology in which a clear understanding of interfunctional relations is particularly important. As long as we do not understand the interrelation of thought and word, we cannot answer, or even correctly pose any of the more specific questions in this area. (Vygotsky, 1997, p.1)
Has psychology in the Western tradition not investigated this relation?
Strange as it may seem, psychology has never investigated the relation systematically and in detail. Interfunctional relations in general have not as yet received the attention they merit. The atomistic and functional modes of analysis prevalent during the past decade treated psychic processes in isolation. (Ibid)
Psychology is a comparatively new field within the Western tradition. Luria, in his comments upon the state of affairs at the institute in Moscow at that time, mentions the limitations of laboratory psychology. In chapter 2 of his book The Making of Mind, he describes the scene in Moscow regarding research in psychology at the institute in Moscow. Luria (1979, pp. 28-37) describes a peculiar situation at the institute to which he belonged; all of the laboratories had been renamed to include the term reactions. There was a laboratory of visual reactions, of mnemonic reactions, of emotional reactions and so forth. The following are Vygotsky’s comments related to this peculiar situation:
Methods of research were developed and perfected with a view to studying separate functions, while their interdependence and their organization in the structure of consciousness as a whole remained outside the field of investigation. (1997, p. 1)
These concepts remained outside the field of investigation only within the Western tradition of investigation. According to P.T. Raju:
The tension between philosophy and religion, religion and science, and science and philosophy become characteristic of the West. This was not so with Indian thought. Metaphysics and religion as understood by Indian thinkers were interrelated. Indian thinkers never felt any tension between philosophy and religion, and philosophy and science. The elucidation of the implications of our existence is found in both science and philosophy and covers the whole field of thought’s endeavour (1971, p.13).
Like the Upanisadic philosophers, Vygotsky was interested in investigating the interrelation of Thought and Language. The following quote gives us an idea of the kinds of studies he was involved in:
As an example we may recall a recent attempt of this kind. It was shown that speech movements facilitate reasoning. In a case of a difficult cognitive task involving verbal material, inner speech helped to imprint and organize the conscious content. The same cognitive process, taken now as a sort of activity benefits from the presence of inner speech, which facilitates the selection of essential material from the nonessential. And finally inner-speech is considered to be an important factor in the transition from thought to external speech. (1997, p. 3)
Vygotsky’s mention of inner speech brings to mind the levels of speech explored within Indian theories of language. Just as his mention of inner speech and external speech brings to mind Bhartrhari’s explorations of the levels of speech in Vakyapadiya, the casual mention of the word yogi without any explanation or references in the reporting of a scientific experiment conducted in the West caught my attention while reading Luria’s The Making of the Mind. Describing one of his experiments, Luria states,
His behaviour was also affected by his memory. He was able to control his involuntary processes, such as his heart rate and the temperature of his body, in the same way that a yogi does. A clear image of himself running fast increased his pulse rate. An image of a piece of ice on his hands decreased the temperature of his hand….(Luria, 1979, p.183.).
I am curious to know more about the involvement of Vygotsky and Luria and other Russian scholars of his time with India and Indian thought. Was Vygotsky aware of Sorokin’s work? Sorokin taught at the Psycho-Neurological Institute while at St. Petersberg, he was influenced by Sri Aurobindo’s teachings, and at Harvard, he conducted analysis of the ancient techniques of Yogas. Before we further explore Vygotsky’s connections with Classical Indian thought, and levels of speech, let us see how Vygotsky explains the failure of former investigations of Thought and Language to address the interrelation of these notions:
The fault thus lies in the methods of analysis adopted by previous investigators. To cope successfully with the problem of the relation between Thought and Language, we must ask ourselves first of all what method of analysis is most likely to ensure its solution. (1997, p. 4)
Within the Indian tradition a great deal of attention is given to methods of analysis. Methods of analysis within Indian thought is explained as the means of knowledge by which valid knowledge is attained. According to Harold Coward, the Indian approach to the study of language and linguistic problems involves using both methods of analysis, and synthesis (Coward & Raja, 1990, p. 5). Out of these two approaches, the analytical method was older and more popular. The Sanskrit term for grammar, vyakarna, literally means linguistic analysis.
Two essentially different modes of analysis are possible in the study of psychological structures. It seems to us that one of them is responsible for all the failures that have beset former investigators of the old problem, which we are about to tackle in our turn, and that the other is the only correct way to approach it. The first method analyzes complex psychological wholes into elements….This type of analysis provides no adequate basis for the study of the multiform concrete relations between Thought and Language that arise in the course of the development and functioning of verbal thought in it’s various aspects. Instead of enabling us to examine and explain specific instances and phases, and to determine concrete regularities in the course of events, this method produces generalities pertaining to all speech and all thought. It leads us, moreover, into serious errors by ignoring the unitary nature of the process under study. The living union of sound and meaning that we call the word is broken up into two parts, which are assumed to be held together merely by mechanical associative connections. (Vygotsky, 1997, pp. 4- 5)
The Grammarians within the Indian tradition (Panini, Patanjali, Katyayan, and Bhartrhari), consider the union of sound and meaning to be based on the superimposition of one on the other, creating a sort of identity – one evoking the other (Coward & Raja, 1990, p. 64). Bhartrhari uses several technical terms – sabda, sphota, dhvani, and nada – in his discussion of the relationship between word and meaning, or the living union of sound and meaning as Vygotsky puts it. By sabda and/or sphota, Bhartrhari refers to that inner unity which conveys the meaning. Bhartrhari, in his discussion of the sphota talks about the unity of sabda (word) and artha (meaning). According to Bhartrhari a word without meaning is nada (noise). Dehejia gives the following explanation:
It is important to note that sabda at the level of sphota is functionally quite distinct from nada. Bhartrhari leaves no doubt when he asserts that sabda and nada are different entities, emphasizing that nada is impotent without its component of artha. The marriage of sabda and artha is temporarily divorced at the level of the nada. (Dehejia, 1996, pp. 32-33).
The discussion of sabda and nada leads to the grammarian philosophers’ view of the importance of reuniting nada with artha. The grammarians hold the view that error is positively overcome by increasingly clear cognition, once the artha is attached. Coward describes it thus:
Since Bhartrhari conceives of the complete and true word meaning being achieved via the process of ‘perception’, albeit, mental perception, this allows for increasing degrees of clarity as one’s mind positively approximates itself to the truth that is there shining forth but not yet clearly seen. Error is thus overcome by a gradual approximation to the given meaning whole, or sphota (1976: 26)
Does this seem very much like the Zone of Proximal Development that Vygotsky talks about? I am again left with many questions and my limitations in answering them.
Psychology, which aims at a study of complex holistic systems, must replace the method of analysis into elements with the method of analysis into units. What is the unit of verbal thought that is further unanalyzable and yet retains the properties of the whole? We believe that such a unit can be found in the internal aspect of the word, in word-meaning. (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 5)
Vygotsky’s emphasis on replacing of methods of analysis into elements, with the method of analysis into units; and the fact that such a unit can be found in the internal aspect of the word, in word meaning, reminded me of Bhartrhari’s theory of ‘Sphota’ which explores these concepts systematically and in great detail. Bhartrhari in particular paid considerable attention to the whole sentence and the discussion of word-meaning rather than levels of language.
Contemporary psychology has nothing to say about the specificity of human vocalization, and concomitantly it has no specific ideas regarding word meaning, ideas that would distinguish it from the rest of cognitive functions. Such a state of affairs was characteristic of the old associationistic psychology, and it remains a sign of contemporary Gestalt psychology. In the word we recognize only its external side. Yet it is in the internal aspect, in word meaning, that thought and speech unite into verbal thought. (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 5).
Our experimental as well as theoretical analysis, suggests that both Gestalt psychology and association psychology have been looking for the intrinsic nature of word meaning in the wrong directions. A word does not refer to a single object, but to a group or to a class of objects. Each word is therefore already a generalization. Generalization is a verbal act of thought and reflects reality in quite another way than sensation and perception reflect it. Such a qualitative difference is implied in the proposition that there is a dialectical leap not only between total absence of consciousness (in inanimate matter) and sensation but also between sensation and thought. (Ibid., p. 6).
At the beginning of this quote Vygotsky specifically mentions the limits of contemporary psychology regarding word meaning. It is my opinion that in doing so, Vygotsky clearly refers us back to his quote in The Psychology of Art where he talks about the ‘theory from antiquity’ Classical Indian theories have a lot to say on word-meaning specifically. Once again the text leaves itself open to the interpretive process of the reader. Vygotsky’s comments have made me make a mental note to re-read Bhartrhari to get a clear idea on what he has to say on word-meaning and generalization, and between sensation and thought. Vygotsky’s observation is that generalization is a verbal act of thought and reflects reality in a different way than sensation and perception.
There is every reason to suppose that the qualitative distinction between sensation and thought is the presence in the latter of a generalized reflection of reality, which is also the essence of word meaning; and consequently that meaning is an act of thought in the full sense of the term. But at the same time, meaning is an inalienable part of word as such, and thus belongs in the realm of language as much as in the realm of thought. A word without meaning is an empty sound, no longer a part of human speech. Since word meaning is both thought and speech, we find in it the unit of verbal thought we are looking for. Clearly then the method to follow in our exploration of the nature of verbal thought is semantic analysis-the study of the development, the functioning, and the structure of this unit, which contains thought and speech interrelated. This method combines the advantages of analysis and synthesis, and it permits adequate study of complex wholes. (Ibid)
I do remember though, that it has been said that the Indian approach to the study of language and linguistic problems has been characterized by both analysis and synthesis. The Mimamsa school of thought used both of these in their methodology when it came to textual interpretation of ancient texts. Moreover, curiously enough when Vygotsky says, “A word without meaning is an empty sound, no longer a part of human speech” it so much resonates with Bhartrhari’s distinction of sabda, artha and nada. Verbal thought, the way Vygotsky describes it, seems very much like Madhyamika vak, where artha – meaning – gets attached to the word. Vygotsky’s comments make me wish I were more knowledgeable in Bhartrhari’s theory in order to carry the arguments further.
Leo Tolstoy in his educational writings, says that children often have difficulty in learning a new word not because of its sound, but because of the concept to which the word refers: There is a word available nearly always when the concept has matured. Therefore, we all have reasons to consider a word meaning not only as a union of thought and speech, but also as a union of generalization and communication, thought and communication. The conception of word meaning as a unit of both generalizing thought and social interchange is of incalculable value for the study of Thought and Language. It permits true causal-genetic analysis, systematic study of the relations between the growth of the child’s thinking ability and his social development. The interrelation of generalization and communication may be considered a secondary focus of our study (Ibid., pp. 8-9).
As mentioned before, like Bhartrhari, Vygotsky’s focus is also more on word meaning than levels of speech.
Speaking of Tolstoy reminds me of Gandhi. To an Indian mind, Gandhi and Tolstoy are two giant figures who represent the spirit of non-violence and freedom. I have recently read Tolstoy’s Letter to an Indian. I was astonished to know how deeply Tolstoy was acquainted with and influenced by Indian thought. His letter is infused with quotations from The Bhagavad Gita, generally referred to as the Gita. The Gita is the text, which contains the essence of the knowledge of consciousness found in Vedic literature. Talking of Tolstoy and the Gita reminds me of Humbolt. Had Vygotsky read Humbolt’s writing on Man in the realm of spirit? In these writings Humbolt gives his interpretation of the Gita. My imaginative mind is putting it all together: Gita – consciousness – action – reality – the interpretation of a theory and its relation to history as well as to an individual’s own life philosophy. In his letter to his student, Levina, Vygotsky states:
Of course you cannot live without spiritually giving meaning to life. Without philosophy (your own, personal, life philosophy) there can be nihilism, cynicism, suicide, but not life. But everybody has his philosophy of course. Apparently you have to grow in it yourself, to give it space inside yourself, because it sustains life in us. (van der veer & Valsiner, 1993, p.16)
I wish it were possible to know more about Vygotsky’s life and philosophy. Perhaps there is a reason why he named his daughter ‘Gita’.
The above selections from Vygotsky serve only as examples of how the text initially engaged me, and the direction my thoughts took, and the direction they led me, evident in the few above quotes from Bhartrhari and the ones that follow. Readers may find many other selections from Vygotsky’s book more engaging and meaningful if they were to undertake the immense task of comparing Vygotsky and Bhartrihai’s thought. I myself, on later readings, found passages I would have liked to explore further. For example, Vygotsky’s distinction between two different forms of consciousness – “intellectual consciousness” and “perceptual consciousness” (1997, p.26), and how this distinction relates to the Indian concept of jñana (all kinds of cognition true or false) and prama (true cognition based on pratyaksa – which could be translated as perception); or how it relates to lower and higher levels of consciousness (savikalpa and nirvikalpa states of consciousness). Chethimattam explains that Indian philosophers look at consciousness from two levels – the empirical level and the transcendental level. In their inquiry into reality, philosophers in the Vedic tradition give importance to the pramanas, or the methods and means of right knowledge: these are, pratyaksha – perception; anuman – inference; and sabda – verbal testimony. All these belong to the empirical level of consciousness. These means on the empirical level are considered necessary for a realization of reality on the transcendental level. There is therefore, an integration of the empirical and the transcendental levels. This capacity for integration is a special feature of the approach from consciousness. Within Indian thought there is, in other words, an integration of the higher and the lower levels of consciousness, and at the same time a unity of the individual and the world (Chethimattam, 1971, p. 92). I am left wondering whether ‘integration’ within the Indian philosophic context, and ‘development’ within Vygotsky’s terminology, have different or comparable meanings; however, such comparisons are not within the scope of my paper.
My attempt in this section has been a reflection of my reading process mirroring my understanding of the subject as it stood then, with many questions and a search for answers.
The above quotations from Vygotsky allow the reader to engage in an act of interpretive self-reflection. The gaps and the ambiguities open the text to the possibility of the construction of a virtual text where the knower, the known and the process of knowing merge, thus marking new parameters for the context within which Vygotsky is conventionally presented. In the following chapter I search for a ‘global perspective’ on Vygotsky, as an alternative to the ‘Eurocentric’ point of view which places him strictly within a European context.
Chapter 3: Perspective on Vygotsky
Placing Vygotsky within a Global Perspective
Vygotsky is credited with the rewriting of psychology in the USSR. He is generally viewed as a psychologist and is placed strictly within a European perspective. In my readings however, I was looking for an alternative perspective – one that would place him within a global setting. It would also provide the space to explore a series of contacts from Vygotsky to Bakhtin, Potebnya, Humbolt, Cassier, Stcherbatsky, the neo-Kantians, German and Russian Indologists, Saussure, and through them, classical Indian thought and perhaps Bhartrhari. However, I did not find any readings, which looked beyond a European perspective. The tracings of influences stop at, and never cross the European circle within which the web of influences are contained. In this respect my reading excursion into the life and thought of Vygotsky was a rude awakening to the realities, subtleties and the power of the intellectual and academic world, and to the intense struggle among and between individuals, institutions and cultures to claim authorship of ideas. This seems to be a rather strong statement but it is not entirely unsupported. Consider what Valsiner and van der Veer say in the preface to their book Understanding Vygotsky: A Quest for Synthesis,
Researching this book has been an exercise in detective work. Repeatedly we came across alterations to the history of Vygotsky’s work in psychology-sometimes deliberate sometimes unintentional. Not surprisingly, we reacted vehemently to each unsubstantiated myth, and the reader will sense reactions in a number of places in the book. On reflection we wonder why we were so agitated when we discovered ways in which Vygotsky has been painted as a “guru” figure of Soviet (and some international) psychology. (1993, p.x).
I was looking for evidence in Vygotsky’s writings to connect Vygotsky to Indian thought. However, finding such evidence raised even more questions and involved me further in the process of interpretation. Let us take, as an example of a gap in my understanding, the following paragraph from Vygotsky’s The Psychology of Art, from which I have quoted in the last chapter.
The first and most widespread formula of art psychology goes back to W. von Humboldt; it defines art as perception. Potebnia adopted this as the basic principle in a number of his investigations. In a modified form, it approaches the widely held theory that comes to us from antiquity, according to which art is the perception of, wisdom and teaching and instruction are its main tasks. One of the fundamental views of this theory is the analogy between the activity and evolution of language and art. (1925)
Note where he says, ‘comes to us from antiquity’. I wonder which antiquity he is talking about – the European or the Eastern. If Vygotsky is linking it (the theory) to Humbolt and Potebnia then the Indian inheritance is very clear; but, almost as a contradiction, there is no mention of Indian thought in his text Thought and Language nor in the scholarly literature on Vygotsky. Yet both Humbolt and Potebyna were Sanskrit scholars and very well acquainted with classical Indian theories; and, as stated in chapter 2 the other sentences in the paragraph also reveal their affinity with the Indian philosophical tradition. So, what should the reader assume? These ambiguities have to be resolved for the reading process to continue. As a reader, I was presented with a tension, a number of intriguing questions, and a search for an alternative perspective as well as grounds for its validity. In my readings on Vygotsky, I was searching for a perspective which might have explored the link between Vygotsky and the theory, which comes to us from antiquity.
My motivation for pursuing this line of research also rests on the belief that, away from the rational world, is the world of intuitions and feelings, a world of inner reality. I was curious to find out what investigating an inner, intuitive feeling would reveal. The conventional representation of Vygotsky, which places him within a strictly European context, was in contradiction with the self of this reader.
In exploring an alternative perspective I involved myself in the creation of a virtual text. Its temporary contours might bring together the self of the reader and that of the author through the text, and in doing so reconstruct the context. In the previous chapter, I explored selections of Vygotsky’s text, which contributed to the interpretive process of the reader. At these instances where the text and the reader meet, meaning takes a new turn and new contexts become established, because contexts, like meanings, cannot be limited or contained; it is perspective, which defines them.
In this section I cover the most important perspectives on Vygotsky to show that even they place him only within a European context. In general, I found that I could categorize the literature on Vygotsky into four broad areas:
- Perspectives which compare Vygotsky’s ideas with recent movements in Cognitive Science
- Those, which consider Vygotsky’s ideas to be based on Marx’s ideas
- Research, which deals with Vygotsky’s biography and explores the philosophic and intellectual influences on him
- Works that deal with the development and explanation of Vygtosky thought
To these different approaches to Vygotsky and his thought, I would like to add a fifth, my own, which seeks to place Vygotsky within a global perspective.
From the vast amount of literature available on Vygotsky, my few selections below serve only as examples of the conventional practice of placing Vygotsky within the European context. There is little doubt in my mind that, though there is so much more I could read on Vygotsky, I would find no explicit evidence linking Vygotsky to Classical Indian Thought. I am left to the interpretive experiences of the self to read between the lines and infer such connections. For argument’s sake, I want to explore the possibility that each of the four perspectives could be expanded from the context within which they represent Vygotsky and his ideas.